Starting a new chapter of your life is always scary! We have expectations, hopes and ambitions, and sometimes despite all of that, we experience challenges.
When I started my degree apprenticeship, I experienced the challenges of micro-aggressions in the workplace with my name being mispronounced a lot. Whilst this may seem like a small issue, when you are an 18 year-old entering the workplace for the first time and the disrespect is constant, it will have a negative impact.
I was born and raised in East London, and have spent all of my life surrounded by diversity and I had this expectation that any workplace would be the same.
I understand that I have quite a unique name, and it may appear challenging for some to pronounce and some people may make the honest mistake of getting it wrong – which is okay! As long as the individual is compassionate about getting someone’s name wrong, and is willing to correct himself or herself, there is no issue.
However, when the micro-aggressions are constant and there is no effort or care from the individual to get your name right, it does begin to feel intentional and discriminatory. It may seem small, but by constantly getting someone’s name wrong, it does make it feel as though they are not valued as much.
Names have significance, they have power and they define who we are. Many minority ethnic names also have meaning and significant cultural value. Therefore, when name discrimination does arise it is a form of prejudice, and can stem from improper pronunciation, misspelling or stereotyping individuals based on their name. Regardless of the way in which the micro-aggression occurs, it has the same impact of undermining a person’s value and your integrity towards them.
So, how do you deal with micro-aggressions?
There was a recent media campaign called #OurNamesBelong that perfectly acknowledged and tackled the issue of name discrimination that people experience in the workplace. I was inspired by this campaign to raise awareness of this form of discrimination at the company I work for, Leonardo.
With the support of the Leonardo’s Head of Inclusion and Diversity and through my role as Comms Lead and Secretary in Leonardo’s Ethnicity Inclusion Network, I was encouraged start a campaign about why such micro-aggressions are not okay.
As part of National Inclusion Week, I worked with Leonardo’s communications team to create an article for the company website and intranet, and I had the opportunity to host an event where I was able to not only share my experiences facing micro-aggressions, but also encourage others to share their experiences too.
This provided the platform to discuss that when you meet someone for the first time – in person or virtually – you can introduce yourself and then allow the other person to introduce himself or herself whilst you listen carefully to how they pronounce their name. If you did struggle with how their name was pronounced or the spelling of their name, there is no harm in asking the individuals to repeat themselves. By encouraging conversations about someone’s name, you will give the person the respect they and their name deserve.
It is by standing up to discrimination and those challenges we experience, where we are able to make a positive difference. I was told that after my session, when recruiting, interviewers ask the individual first how their name is pronounced, and regardless of how small such a gesture is, it ensures that the professional relationship is built around mutual respect and value. I am really grateful to have received such positive feedback and reactions from the session, and I hope it continues to pave the way to create a more inclusion work environment.